4 ways to retain campus customers

college students foodservice

From DanoneWave Away from Home.

When convenience is the top reason students choose on-campus foodservice facilities over off-campus restaurants and retail locations, it’s clear that there’s an opportunity for operators.

In fact, convenience, speed, ability to dine with friends, leveraging a meal plan were all listed before both food selection and taste as reasons students say they dine on campus, according to Technomic’s 2017 College and University Consumer Trend Report.

Attitudes about the taste and variety of food and drink offered on campus might explain a lack of enthusiasm: Just 42% of students in the study rated taste, and 38% rated variety of options, as very good.

But dining services have plenty of opportunity to create more excitement. Consumers in the study said four key improvements could encourage them to patronize campus dining halls and retail.

Offer better-tasting food (mentioned by 41%)

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Me., ensures the height of flavor by sourcing much of its menu locally, some of it hyperlocally—from the on-campus organic garden. Hamburgers are made with locally raised grass-fed beef ground in the in-house meat shop. And most desserts, muffins and breads are baked in-house.

Serve better-quality food and beverages (40%)

Fresh, for many, is one of the hallmarks of quality. At Boston University’s The Fresh Food Co., the name says it all. The dining room is equipped with more than 20 stations, each outfitted with an open kitchen, where patrons can see their meals prepared, enjoy the aroma of fresh-baked bread and desserts, and sample a revolving lineup.

Turn up the variety (36%)

Students with allergies, dietary preferences and an adventurous nature all welcome alternatives to standard cafeteria fare. This makes plant-forward options, such as soymilk or almondmilk, as well as vegetarian or vegan choices an opportunity for operators.

Villanova University’s dining halls steered demand for variety in a healthy direction, instituting the Villanova Eats Great (VEG) program, which emphasizes greater consumption of fresh produce and whole grains and reduced consumption of sugary beverages and animal proteins. Larger dining halls on the suburban Philadelphia campus all feature a vegan item at every meal, including vegan entrees at dinner. The school hosted a vegan-centric Farm to Fork dinner and held a culinary symposium to train university cooking staff how to prepare plant-based recipes.

Ethnic food stations and theme nights are growing more common as well. At Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., choices in the Becker Hall dining room range from fresh guacamole to warm calzones and sushi, and other dining locations celebrate theme nights such as the Diwali Festival, with Indian dishes, or A Night at Hogwarts, with Harry Potter-inspired meals.

Provide more late-night dinner/snack choices (35%)

According to NPD Group research, snacking represents 35% of all eating occasions, and just over a third of those occasions fall between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. And who doesn’t want to take a break from studying to scarf down a pizza or nachos? Dining halls often don’t accommodate snack attacks or students too busy to eat during earlier dinner hours.

That’s changing, as dining services keep retail outlets and some dining stations open later, and offer more choices for hungry students. The Axe & Palm is a fixture on the Stanford University campus, serving comfort classics such as burgers, fries and mac ‘n cheese until 2 a.m. And Boston University’s Extreme Pita sells sandwiches, soups, salads and parfaits until 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.

DanoneWave’s Silk Bulk Almondmilk and Soymilk give students options that satisfy their varied dietary and taste preferences. For more information, contact DanoneWave at 1-888-620-9910.

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